Suddenly, in the wee hours yesterday morning, there was reason for hope.
Reason for the CBC to believe it still might get a large sum of Canadians to care (and watch) when the Stanley Cup playoffs trudge into the third round.
No doubt it was three cheers all the way around for Shawn Horcoff, whose goal in triple overtime just before 3 a.m. ET yesterday gave the Edmonton Oilers new life in their second-round series against the San Jose Sharks.
Finally, a team that isn't down 3-0 and on the brink of extinction. And a Canadian one, to boot.
"Being the CBC, we like to see Canadian teams in there," said Joel Darling, Hockey Night in Canada's executive producer. "We hope to still see that."
A little more hope arrived last night -- perhaps surprising to some. The Ottawa Senators staved off a shocking sweep with a gritty 2-1 win in Buffalo. Even better, the Sens gave Darling and Co. a bonus gift: A Saturday night game, which the CBC didn't get last weekend.
But all isn't well just yet.
Hockey Night -- and TSN, for that matter -- could still wind up staring at this combination in the Stanley Cup semi-finals: Buffalo, Carolina, San Jose and Anaheim.
That sound you'll hear, should it come to pass, will be that of televisions clicking off from coast to coast.
"That's brutal for CBC," an industry source said of the above-mentioned Final Four possibility. "This is terrible news. I can't even imagine a good Stanley Cup final (ratings-wise) for them out of any of those four teams."
Even TSN can't like this. It gets four third-round games and, if the four American teams win, bet on some early weeknight (and late night) Anaheim-San Jose games being front and centre in that mix.
That kind of result would be much more disastrous for the CBC, which started out having to deal with a Stanley Cup playoffs that didn't include Canada's two biggest TV markets (Toronto and Vancouver) for the first time in eight years.
Now this. An extra-painful kick in the teeth, given the fact the four Canadian teams that did get in all shot out of the gates strongly in the first round.
"We had high hopes during the first round that Montreal might get through and that Calgary might get through, too" said Darling. "At one point, we were even talking about Ottawa-Montreal and Edmonton-Calgary (in the second round)."
Now, it might just be Edmonton. Unless there's a miracle on ice here. Both very big ifs.
"Unbelievably, though, that's why we love the game," said Darling. "That's why we watch. You never know what can happen."
He also knows this cold, hard fact: All you can do is sit back and watch. And let the chips -- and teams -- fall where they may.
"Do some teams help us get better viewership? Sure they do," admitted Darling. "If there are no Canadian teams left, it will certainly hurt our numbe If that happens, there's nothing we can do about it."
PUCK DROPPINGS: Also not likely thrilled about what's unfolded in the Stanley Cup playoffs -- U.S. broadcasters NBC and OLN, which have long since lost big hockey markets Detroit, Philadelphia, New York and Dallas. Neither can even count on a full bang for their bucks out of the four teams left. That's because many Sabres fans tune into the CBC, which is available on basic cable in Buffalo, which borders Canada's Niagara Region. "We've got a lot of viewers down there," said Darling. "CBC and CTV have been on there for years and years. The institution of Hockey Night in Canada has seeped into some homes down there." Darling, the son of former Sabres broadcast legend Ted Darling, knows that first-hand. "I grew up in Buffalo," he said. "I still get some friends calling and asking 'why doesn't Don Cherry like (Sabres coach) Lindy Ruff?' " ... On the flip side: The first two games of the Sens-Sabres series drew 1.252 and 1.265 million viewers, respectively. Some Hockey Night regular-season games do better than that.
THE WORLD'S GAME: Rogers Sportsnet begins a series of World Cup previews tomorrow at noon on SoccerCentral. Two groups will be featured during each of four one-hour shows, running through June 3. Gerry Dobson and former English Premiership goalkeeper Craig Forrest provide the analysis. Sportsnet, TSN and CTV have live coverage of all matches in World Cup 2006 from Germany, which begins June 9. Every game is being made available in high-definition format.
AROUND THE DIAL: More good news for widescreen TV owners. Dome Productions, which is co-owned by CTV Specialty Inc. and Rogers Broadcasting, announced this week the launch of a third high-definition production mobile. In theory, at least, it should mean additional programming for TSN and Sportsnet HD subscribers ... TSN has coverage of the Royal Bank Cup Jr. A hockey final Sunday at 7:30 p.m. from Brampton. It'll run on tape delay at 9:30 p.m. if there's a Game 5 in the Carolina-New Jersey NHL playoff series.